‘The Goonies’: The Pirate Ship Took Over 2 Months to Build

When The Goonies premiered in 1985, it became the defining moment of the decade for children of the 1980s. The movie had a little bit of everything, from childhood bonding to pirate treasures and a gang of swashbuckling villains.

While the film spends most of its journey focusing on the kids, however, the finale at the ship is still its crowning achievement. That achievement took a lot of planning to capture the magic on screen

What is ‘The Goonies’?

The Goonies tells the story of a group of friends who call themselves the Goonies. After uncovering a secret treasure map, the bored kids spend the duration of the picture looking for a mythical treasure that most believe to be sheer mythology. However, in the film’s stunning finale, the children find themselves in a forgotten cave on a pirate gurney that’s filled to the brim with gold and other riches. 

The film made stars of many of its main cast members, from Sean Astin to Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman. Several lines from the film remain in the lexicon nearly 40 years after its premiere. Its legendary status as one of the quintessential adventure films in a decade filled with them helps show why its legacy is so secure. 

The film was based on Steven Spielberg’s idea, penned by Chris Columbus, and directed by Richard Donner with a talented cast of other people behind the scenes. Were it not for its majestic finale, it may have been a different story altogether. Those involved spoke about how magical the ship was to see in person. 

The maiden voyage

The ship did not have the luxury of CGI, meaning that the filmmakers had to rely on intuition and engineering. Shot on a massive stage in Burbank, CA, the ship’s construction took two-and-a-half months and paid homage to the genre films that gave way to the Goonies. However, as Donner said in an interview about the film, part of the reasoning behind this construction was to get a genuine reaction.

During the iconic scene, audiences were taken back by the natural performances from the mostly-young cast. To get these reactions, Donner and company kept the set under wraps until the cameras rolled. As a result, the responses that audiences see on their faces were the actors’ genuine reactions. Donner reminisced about the moment that he unleashed the set on the cast.

L to R: Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen reading a treasure map in a scene from the film 'Goonies', 1985.
L to R: Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen reading a treasure map in a scene from the film ‘Goonies’, 1985. | Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

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“The day we were going to film them first seeing it, we backed them all into the water and set the cameras,” Donner said (per The Bearded Trio). “On ‘action’ they knew what they were going to see, but they didn’t know what it was going to look like.”

Brolin also remembered this in great detail, running down why it was such a spectacle to see in person. 

“They didn’t show us the ship that was being built, which would now be CGI, I’m sure, so this was long enough ago that everything was practical (which made things much more fun & fantastical),” Brolin said. “So it was on a stage, the stage was a massive pool with a practical 110-foot boat built in it. And they backed us up into the stage, into the water, had the camera set up so that we could have an ‘organic’ reaction.”

The legacy of ‘The Goonies’

Thirty-six years after its premiere, the film is still a marvel to behold. From the excellent performances to the thrilling finale at the ship, audiences still marvel at the lengths the makers went to make the film a certified classic. To this day, audiences clamor for a sequel that can recapture the magic, but with Donner in his nineties and the cast approaching old age, too, perhaps the defining moment of its legacy is still the ship that sold the entire film’s finale.